There are two ways to win the Grand Junction Offroad; “be a natural born climber or have bigger balls than anybody else.” And that pretty aptly fits the course description of the Grand Junction Epic course. With the Albstadt World Cup taking many of the regular competitors and previous winners away from the 2nd round of the Epic Rides series race there was blood in the water and the sharks were circling!
Previous second place contender and American hero Howard Grotts would put the prior method for winning to the test. 130 lbs soaking wet Grotts would be pushing the pace on every uphill grade to try and sneak away from his competitors. With both 4 of the 5 women from the Whiskey Offroad podium racing in Germany a fresh row of females were also lined up looking for their paydays. Technicality and toughness would reign supreme as heat descended on the rocks of Grand Junction.
The trademark Epic Rides fat tire criteriums started the weekend off with a BANG as riders bounced off of each other and the ground vying for position and to make their mark on the weekend. The women’s crit saw notable absences of Erin Huck, Chloe Woodruff, Kate Courtney, and others away. Throwing down in the 30 minute format the field was immediately strung out and snaked along the 8 corner double diamond crit course. Riders would overwhelmingly choose their full suspension machines over the hardtails they had used at the Whiskey Offroad due to the rockier and more technical Lunch Loops and surrounding trails in Grand Junction. And so full suspensions with the minimum 1.5 rubber was a normal sight in the pits and warmup laps.
NoTubes/Pivot riders Sofia Gomez Villafane was eager to take up the torch of her team lead Chloe Woodruff and would battle in the crit alongside Larissa Connors (RideBiker/Felt) and NoTubes’ Evelyn Dong. The three riders would hold the pace but eventually it was Veteran Katerina Nash who would surge to the front and match every acceleration before finally breaking free of the pack for a win at the El Yucateco Hotsauce Fat Tire criterium.
The Men’s field saw the unusual presence of Howard Grotts but contender Keegan Swenson away. Many other professional men joined the fray as the Epic Rides series steered towards Colorado. Adding to the firepower was Cyclocross National Champion Stephen Hyde (Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld.com) racer aboard the Scalpel SI and newly released Lefty Ocho single crown fork. The men’s race would be haunted by crashes in nearly every corner throughout the night. Making creative line choice as crucial as an open throttle. As the watt bombs dropped on Grand Junction it was clear that Hyde had the accelerations to spare and was the rider to match. Always wily and ever present Geoff Kabush (Yeti proved nearly proved that two fork legs are as good as one taking Hyde to the line in a sprint.
Filling out the lineup was Howard Grotts (Specialized), CZ Racing’s Fernando Riveros Paez, and Texan Tristan Uhl (Giant Co-Factory). If the ever thrashing and crashing of the men’s crit was any indication of the drama that would unfold during the Epic Backcountry race then there would be blood!
Mens Back Country “Epic”
With a day’s rest between the criterium and the back country Epic across the famed Lunch Loops, Butterknife, and Gunny trails riders were once again sharp and ready to face off on the start line. Smaller fields in the Mens and Womens fields than at the Whiskey offroad meant closer racing for riders. A more casual lead out of Grand Junction before riders were greeted quickly by the high desert heat. Many riders opted for Camelbak hydration systems like the highly praised Chase bike vest to combat the heat and desert climate. The rollout was largely safe but once across the Colorado River things got serious. The Tabeguache trail saw the first shots fired with Grotts eventually riding away from the group leaving solo chase efforts of Kabush (Yeti), Russel Finsterwald (Clif), Fernando Paez (CZ Racing), and ex Cannondale teammates Alex Grant (Cannondale-Enve Composites) and Jeremiah Bishop (Topeak-Ergon). Each rider would come into the finish line a handful of moments after the other but Grotts matched near his record time from 2017 for an Epic win on the gutsy course.
Women’s Back Country Epic
It was a one-woman show as Clif Bar’s Katerina Nash defended her Grand Junction title; showing all challengers that she was on top of her game. Diving and climbing as well as ever to lead early into the desert. The chase group however was no meager group. Recently crowned Marathon national champion Amy Biesel (Orange-Seal) joined forces with Evelyn Dong (Spry cycles/ NoTubes), and a hungry Sofia Gomez Villafane (Stan’s/ Pivot) to put in a series of incredible efforts before Dong blew the group apart in the later stage of the singletrack.
Nash’s double in the criterium and back country Epic put her on all riders radar. Grotts’ overall placing and consistent performance at both the Whiskey Offroad and now the Grand Junction Offroad make him a force to be reckoned with. As the Epic Rides series moves to Carson City NV for a dose of lights and magic the series moves past the half way mark. Its anyone’s ballgame with a few favorites to pick from.
El Yucateco Fat Tire Criterium Winners:
Mens: #37 – Stephen Hyde
Cannondale Bicycles, Julbo Eyewear
Womens: #31 – Kateřina Nash
Clif Pro Team
Back Country Epic:
1st Place#1 -Howard Grotts – 03:11:16
Specialized Racing2nd Place
#3 – Russell Finsterwald – 03:13:54
Team CLIF, Groove Subaru,
ODI Grips, Union Sport
#6 – Fernando Riveros – 03:15:57
#7 – Alex Grant – 03:16:30
Cannondale, ENVE Composites,
#81 – Jeremiah Bishop – 03:16:41
Canyon Topeak Factory Racing
1st Place#31 – Kateřina Nash – 03:56:20
Clif Pro Team2nd Place
#3 – Evelyn Dong – 03:57:39
Spry Cycles, Stan’s NoTubes, POC, Maxxis
Tires, SR Suntour, Carbo Rocket
#5 – Crystal Anthony – 04:01:58
LIV Cycling, Maxxis Tires, Shimano, Parlee,
#4 – Amy Beisel – 04:01:59
Orange Seal, Kenda, Voler
#30 – Alexis Skarda – 04:05:12
Stan’s-Kenda Women’s Elite Team